– John Wiyual returned from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to South Sudan in December 2010, hoping the move would not disrupt his five children’s education too much. Wiyual’s family was among the first groups of Southern Sudanese to go home, pending the South’s secession, which became reality on 9 July.
“Upon arrival in Malakal [capital of Upper Nile state of South Sudan], many of the returnees went to their counties of origin; I opted to remain here because I needed my children to continue with their learning,” Wiyual told IRIN. “I knew that in my county [Ulang], services are still bad and my children may not get a near-enough school to attend; it helps that primary education is free, so I just need to live in an area where there is easy access to the school, hospital and the market.”
For Wiyual and thousands of other returnees in the Greater Upper Nile region – comprising the states of Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei – basic services, land and employment opportunities are the key considerations influencing the pace of their reintegration.
Those returning to urban areas and counties near urban areas resettle fairly quickly, while returnees in remote counties end up at way stations (there are no camps for the displaced in South Sudan) where they stay for long periods as they await land allocations in serviced areas.
Wiyual, who went to Khartoum in 1989 during conflict in Ulang, said he would leave the way station in the Dagarshufu area of Malakal if he is allocated land at home in an area where his children can continue with their schooling.
“At the moment, I cannot go to Ulang as I would not be able to provide for my family there; I rely on casual labour in Malakal town to supplement the food rations we get here at the way station,” Wiyual said. “Moreover, the last time we got the food rations [provided by the South Sudan Rehabilitation and Reintegration Commission, SSRRC] was in February; if I had a chance, I would tell the authorities to give me a piece of land to live on where I can easily get medicine when my children fall ill and where I can get food for them by working as a casual labourer.”
South Sudanese in the North continue to make their way home (file photo)Development challenges
Aid workers say the SSRRC, the new government’s humanitarian arm, faces several challenges, including poor infrastructure, lack of community capacity-building, and insecurity in parts of the Greater Upper Nile.
Andrea Maya Felo, deputy governor of Upper Nile state, said state officials were doing their best to help integrate returnees into their communities. In late 2010 when the numbers of returnees increased, he said, food rations were provided to people in way stations pending their onward journey home.
“The challenge is: many people are still coming from the north; how to transport them to their homes during the rainy season is difficult,” Maya said. “As a state, our resources are limited, so the main challenge is getting all these people back to their homes. The other challenge is the large number of spontaneous returnees; we have tried to assess their numbers but it was difficult, we have yet to cover the whole state because of accessibility challenges.
“As a state, we have no problem with returnees, we continue to hold meetings with officials, community leaders and all parties concerned on how best to resettle those returning home,” Maya said.
Displaced by fighting
Since June, when fighting broke out between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) in South Kordofan state, which neighbours South Sudan’s Unity state, displaced civilians have swelled the numbers of those entering South Sudan.
According to a weekly humanitarian update published on 11 August by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Sudan, the cumulative total of returnees since October 2010 is now more than 328,500 people.
According to OCHA, South Sudanese in the North continue to make their way home.
“While numbers are yet to be confirmed, almost 2,000 people are estimated to have arrived in Renk in Upper Nile over the past week [early August] according to preliminary tracking data,” the agency said. “Government-organized trains en route from Khartoum and Kosti safely crossed into South Sudan on 11 August after having been blocked by armed groups near Meiram on the border between Southern Kordofan and South Darfur.
“Preliminary information indicated that the number of people on the train more than doubled to an estimated 6,900 people en route south as passengers boarded along the way. Conditions on the congested trains were reportedly poor, with an unconfirmed number of children experiencing severe diarrhoea, resulting in the reported death of one child.”
In Upper Nile State, Father Mathew Pagan, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Malakal, told IRIN the commission had put in place joint returnee-host community committees to support the reintegration of those returning from the North.
“Returnees face many difficulties: insecurity hampering food distribution, trying to adjust to things such as language – moving from Arabic to English in schools – as well as difficulty encountered in moving to their homes given that the rains have rendered some roads impassable,” Pagan said. “Planning is a big problem as more people from the North arrive. We must put in place adequate emergency measures to cater for all returnees.”